Jan 3, 2024 - News

Washington now bans most pre-employment pot tests

Illustration of a marijuana leaf on a scale

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A positive test for cannabis can no longer disqualify you for most jobs in Washington state.

What's happening: A new law that took effect Monday bans most employers from denying someone a job based on a drug screening that turns up traces of cannabis.

Why it matters: Inactive THC metabolites from cannabis can remain in urine samples for days or weeks, long after someone is no longer impaired.

  • While recreational marijuana use has been legal in Washington state for more than a decade, until now it's also been legal for employers to refuse to hire people who test positive for using the drug.

Details: The new law covers most employers in Washington, but there are some exceptions, including law enforcement agencies, fire departments, 911 dispatch centers and airlines.

  • The law also doesn't apply to any other "safety-sensitive position for which impairment while working presents a substantial risk of death."
  • Employers would have to identify what qualifies as a "safety-sensitive position" that requires testing before people apply.

Plus: People can still be tested for cannabis use after they're already employed at a company, such as after a workplace accident or if there's a suspicion of on-the-job impairment.

What they're saying: State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), who sponsored the new law, said she thinks the law's exceptions will be narrowly applied.

  • "I think the vast majority of applicants for jobs in all kinds of industries will no longer be subject to this discrimination," Keiser told Axios this week.

Between the lines: Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, federal employees can still be subject to pre-employment screenings for the drug.

  • So can federal contractors and transportation workers who are subject to federal certification requirements, Keiser said.

Zoom out: Recreational marijuana use is now legal in about half of U.S. states.

  • Some, including Nevada and California, have adopted laws similar to Washington's limiting pre-employment cannabis screening, according to NORML, a national group that advocates for marijuana law reform.
  • Paul Armentano, NORML's deputy director, said in a news release last year that it's long past time for companies "to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat."
  • He said that people who use cannabis legally should be held to a similar standard as those who use alcohol responsibly on their own time.
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